In June 1941 Mackenzie joined No 247 Squadron as a flight commander. Based in Cornwall, the squadron’s Hurricanes were used as night fighters and Mackenzie achieved its first success on July 6 when he shot down a Junkers 88 bomber, which crashed in the sea off Falmouth. Three months later he repeated this feat when he sent a Heinkel bomber crashing into the sea off Land’s End.
In the autumn of 1941, No 247 went on the offensive over France. On September 29 Mackenzie set off to attack the airfield at Lannion in Brittany. His aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and, as his engine failed, he ditched in the sea. He managed to scramble into his dinghy, paddle ashore and hide but he was discovered by a German patrol and taken captive.
On his way to a POW camp, Mackenzie gave his guard the slip on a crowded Paris railway station but was soon recaptured. At Oflag VIB at Warburg, northern Germany, which was predominantly an army camp, escape attempts were a major industry and Mackenzie joined the tunnelling team. Working 24 hours a day, they reached the perimeter wire but flooding prevented further work until the spring. On resuming in April 1942, Mackenzie was fortunate not to be buried alive when a ton of clay fell from the roof – he just managed to scramble clear. With rumours that the POWs were to be transferred to another camp, the prisoners decided to risk breaking open the tunnel early. As the first prisoner crawled from the tunnel exit, a guard spotted him.
Undaunted, Mackenzie and a colleague decided to build a “blitz” tunnel from a ditch close to the perimeter fence. A diversion was set up and the two men reached the ditch unseen. Hiding under blankets, they waited for nightfall when they planned to dig a shallow tunnel under the wire.
As night fell a guard was seen taking a close interest in the area so another diversion was created and the two men were recalled into the compound. A few weeks later, Mackenzie was transferred to Stalag Luft III at Sagan.
Over a long period of time he feigned madness and developed a severe stammer for the purpose. He was eventually repatriated to England in October 1944. For the rest of his RAF career he was known as Mad Mac.
On his return he became an instructor on fighters, when he was assessed as exceptional, and over the next few years he filled a number of flying appointments at fighter training schools. In July 1951 he was promoted to command the Meteor fighter wing at Stradishall in Suffolk, where he was also the chief instructor.
Mackenzie, who never lost the stammer he cultivated as a POW, was an irascible character and always led from the front. It was his habit to fly every morning before the routine meteorological briefing for all the other pilots.
After one of these flights, he attended a brief when the young forecaster stated that the cloud base was low, to which Mackenzie shouted out: “C-c-c-cock!” He was awarded the AFC at the end of his tour. He later served in the Middle East and in the Persian Gulf.
Wing Commander Ken “mac” Mackenzie DFC, AFC from Belfast, a Battle of Britain pilots under the wings of a hurricane at R.A.F. Hendon, prior to the book launch of “Men of the Battle of Britain”. (Photo by John Stillwell – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
In 1965 he was serving in Kenya when Ian Smith declared UDI in Southern Rhodesia. The following year, the RAF mounted a major airlift of fuel into Zambia and Mackenzie served in the hastily-created headquarters in Lusaka where he remained for three months.
This led to an invitation to join the newly-independent Zambian Air Force as the deputy commander, a post he held until April 1970. He then ran Air Kenya in Nairobi as managing director until his retirement in 1973 when he moved to Cyprus.
In the 1960s Mackenzie became much involved in motorsport, racing sports cars with some success, culminating in the 1963 Tourists’ Trophy Race at Goodwood. He returned to England in 2000 and was a strong supporter of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association, rarely missing any of the annual reunions. His autobiography, Hurricane Combat, the Nine Lives of a Fighter Pilot was published in 1987.
Ken Mackenzie died on June 4. His marriage to Molly Bennis in 1946 ended in divorce in 1967. His second wife died and he married, thirdly, Margaret, in 1979. She survives him with a daughter from his first marriage.
Published June 11 2009